It’s time to “move beyond climate blaming and into climate action” in addressing the issue of carbon emissions arising from agriculture, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association.
IFA President Joe Healy said Irish farmers were prepared to roll up their sleeves in a co-ordinated response on carbon reduction but the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and key Government departments had to lead in "whole of sector" delivery of a strategy outlined by Teagasc.
The IFA has published five actions that Government can take to support farming to deliver on climate mitigation. These include the establishment of a cross-sectoral implementation group, and the mobilisation of departments and the State’s advisory, scientific and economic development agencies to maximise delivery of the reductions identified by Teagasc in its recent report on climate change abatement.
The report identifies the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 9 megatonnes of CO2 a year. This is almost half of the emissions attributed to agriculture. It outlines how this can be delivered by changes in agricultural practice; land-use changes and fossil fuel displacement in the sector – agriculture emissions currently amount to more 30 per cent of Ireland’s total emissions.
“The report identifies 27 specific measures to deliver this, however it also emphasises this climate abatement potential can only be achieved if there is ‘maximum level of uptake’,” Mr Healy said.
IFA environment chairman Thomas Cooney outlined the scale of support needed from sectors beyond agriculture. "Delivery of these actions will require funding from the Department of Finance, planning changes from the Department of Housing, tariff supports from the Department of Environment, technical expertise from the Department of Agriculture, Teagasc, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the EPA, as well as advisory support from Enterprise Ireland, " he added.
This required co-ordination and commitment at the highest level in Government, he said. "Delivery of the greenhouse gas reducing measures contained in this Teagasc report is what climate leadership looks like; the leadership that both Mr Varadkar and Environment Minister Richard Bruton have referred to in recent weeks," he added.
The actions include a call on the Government to work with EU leaders to introduce a carbon tariff on "all less climate-efficient imports" into the EU from South America and other regions to incentivise carbon-efficient food production.
The IFA has called for an independent retail regulator to ensure farmers get “a fairer share of the food supply chain, allowing them to continue to reinvest to further climate proof their farm businesses”.
On the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions, the IFA said climate metrics applied to methane need to be re-examined “given the short-lived behaviour of methane in the atmosphere”.
It also suggests emission reductions through natural carbon sinks, such as forests and permanent pastures, should be included in the overall measurement of the contribution of emissions from the sector.
On community and farm-scale renewable energy, it calls for the introduction of a guaranteed tariff model for those generating electricity, increased access to the national grid and development of regional biomass trade and logistic centres to co-ordinate bioenergy.
“This detailed submission to Government restates IFA’s opposition to further carbon taxes on the sector, which are directly impacting on farming’s competitiveness without reducing climate emissions,” Mr Cooney said.
The submission also highlights the multiple and sometimes competing roles farmers have as food, fuel and energy producers, while at the same time being required to enhance the environment and the low climate-mitigating potential of the sector.
“Farmers in Ireland have a proud record as carbon-efficient food producers. We can and will do more particularly in resource efficiency and renewables areas. However, this depends on strong Government support and a fully-funded CAP to meet the increased environmental and climate requirements.”
Prof Valérie Masson-Delmotte, a lead author on the UN recent landmark report on global warming, told the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action this week a big conversation was needed in Ireland on “what you want to pay farmers for; producing more food, preserving water or sequestering carbon”.